IN the latest of political reporter BILL JACOBS’ constituency profiles ahead of the December 12 General Election, we look at Rossendale where a well-established leader of the borough council is taking on a Tory front-bencher

THE early presence of Jeremy Corbyn in Darwen early shows how much Labour want to oust Jake Berry, Conservative MP since 2010, on December 12.

The political scalp of the Northern Powerhouse minister and friend of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is one of its key targets.

The Labour leader believes his rallying call to supporters to knock doors could make the difference in Rossendale and Darwen – a mix of Labour towns, rural villages and urban Tory pockets like Bacup which has seen majorities as low as 120 in the recent past.

A weather-vane seat which changes hands between Labour and the Conservatives with the political wind, it is crucial to both main parties.

Mr Corbyn made clear there is a determined strategy to take the seat.

The party’s candidate, Rossendale Council leader Alyson Barnes, hopes 2017’s late but sharp increase in her vote which cut Mr Berry’s 2015 majority of 5,654 to 3,216 will be the springboard for a Labour surge.

He is playing his Lancastrian roots and closeness to the Conservative levers of power for all it is worth.

A reluctant Remainer in 2016 turned Leave loyalist, he must be delighted the Brexit Party’s Nadine Mason finally followed leader Nigel Farage’s orders and withdrew.

She said: “I thought about standing as an Independent Brexit candidate. If I had the finances I would have done.”

With the Brexit vote in the constituency at 60 per cent, he aims to hoover up Leave voters in the light of Labour’s commitment to negotiating a new deal and putting it to a second referendum.

Mr Berry will hope Liberal Democrat Paul Valentine will garner Remain voters equalling its 8,541 in 2010 which could make the difference to the Conservatives winning or losing.

Labour members from neighbouring Blackburn have been busy in areas like Sudell where people support well-known local Lib Dem council candidates but revert to their party in national polls.

Green Sarah Hall, a Burnley councillor, hopes her Remain and environmental agenda can provide an alternative for disgruntled voters.

Mr Berry said: “I’ve been out every single day and virtually everyone I’ve spoken with just wants us to get Brexit done so we can move on an concentrate on the people’s priorities: the NHS, schools and tackling crime. Corbyn and Labour won’t get Brexit done.

“I’ve helped secure £48million to improve Darwen, Rawtenstall and Bacup and more money for our local NHS including £25million upgrading Blackburn and Burnley hospitals. Improving our road and rail connections to Manchester is an absolute priority.”

Mrs Barnes said: “The issues are the cost of living, the NHS and school budgets cuts. It’s also about poor rail links to both Darwen and virtually non-existent ones to Rossendale leading to congestion on the M66. That is the way out of this Brexit rabbit hole not giving big tax cuts to corporations while low-paid families in the constituency can’t make ends meet.”

Business adviser Mr Valentine said: “The central issue is stopping Brexit to allow us to invest in public services. Another key is improving transport in terms of roads, rail and buses. This is a commuter area with people working in Manchester, Blackburn and Bolton .”

Nursery worker Cllr Hall, 26, said: “I stand for those who care about the climate and our planet. The Green Party pledges to invest £100billion a year to cut emissions by 2030, removing fossil fuels. With Brexit looming, I am advocating a People’s Vote.”

CANDIDATES: Alyson Barnes, Labour; Jake Berry, Conservative; Sarah Hall, Green; Paul Valentine, Lib Dem. 2017 RESULT: Jake Berry Conservative 25,499; Alyson Barnes Labour 22,283; Sean Bonner Liberal Democrat 1,550; John Payne Green 824. Majority 3,216; Turnout 69.2 per cent.